There is a line made by climbing and a line made by falling. There is the flawed line of my body. The parallel lines two bodies make. The line of someone walking into the distance. Someone else moving close. The line of want, the line of touch, of merging. Then there is the line of the pregnancy test, blue as the rope I climb with, slim and unforgettable.
Is March too early to decide on my outdoorsy book of the year for 2022? Quite probably, but with A Line Above the Sky, Helen Mort has set the bar so incredibly high that I’m pretty tempted to make the call already. It’s one of those very rare books that makes me want to write a gushing email to the author thanking them for putting this out into the world.
Once you begin to look for imaginary peaks, you start to see them everywhere: each furrow of crag and hill has its own local myths; each square of map conceals forgotten phantom heights. Each human mind contains innumerable ranges, sparkling like starlight and like snow.
I was so excited to read this; Katie Ives’ writing is always stunning, and this book had me hooked right from the title. Imaginary Peaks is an intriguing exploration of the fascination held by empty spaces on the map, and of mountains that aren’t represented on maps.
Mountaineering has always felt otherwordly to me, lingering somehow right on the edge between reality and a vivid fantasy. There have been moments in the mountains that I’ve later struggled to explain and I’ve always been frustrated by what feels like a huge inability to re-tell my own experiences, so I felt very comforted (and validated!) by Katie’s discussion of the sheer difficulty of fully capturing our experiences in the mountains, let alone the impossibility of trying to pin down such vivid and complex terrain onto a flat piece of paper.
The risk game is addictive.
‘Quest for Adventure’ describes 17 bold expeditions: crossing oceans, flying, climbing mountains and caving. It’s definitely a fascinating read for anyone interested in the broader spectrum of adventure and exploration.
I don’t read mountaineering novels very often; I suppose I don’t really see the point of them when there’s already so many dramatic factual accounts to read.
I’m really glad I made an exception here. I thought First on the Rope is an exquisite novel. It’s a finely-written love letter to the mountains, perfectly capturing the beauty and magic of long days moving through the mountains balanced against the cost.
I read The Last Blue Mountain by Ralph Barker a few months ago now, and I still catch myself thinking about the ending. The tragedy of it has lingered in the back of my mind in a similar way to the death of Toni Kurz – so drawn out and with escape so, so close.
I really loved Bernadette McDonald's Winter 8000: it's a compelling read, certain to quickly become a classic of mountaineering literature. The insight into what Revol calls ‘the great Himalayan solitude’ is really fascinating, and I found myself captivated by these incredible tales of heroism and tragedy, friendships and rivalries played out over an immense scale. I'm already looking forward to a re-read!
A rare bright side of the endless lockdowns is that I read more in 2020 than I have for a few years. I started off the year with a firm resolution to work through my bookshelves and read all the ones I owned but had never actually opened. This started off well for the first couple of months, but when the first lockdown hit I changed plan, needing to read anything that was completely absorbing. Spring was filled with a rather indiscriminate selection of recent titles grabbed from the library in a panic the day before it shut. Over the second half of the year, I spent most of my time reading fantastical literature, veering between myth retellings and magical realism. I also read many short stories this year; some days I didn’t feel I had the energy or attention span to tackle a novel, and short stories slotted in here perfectly. I didn’t keep a list of these though – maybe something to change for next year.
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.